The Phi Phi Islands are something of a celebrity atoll. Not only are they beautiful, and famous around the world, they’ve also been in the movies. The islands are located between Phuket and the Andaman Sea and are pretty much made up of two: Phi Phi Don (the big one) and Phi Phi Lee (the not quite as big one). A few more “islands” make up the rest of what Phi Phi has to offer but in reality are just a few pieces of limestone peaking their craggy heads above the water.
So, if you’re booking a Phi Phi Island resort you might be wondering what made it so popular? Well, a lot of it, like most of the good in the world, has to do with Hollywood. And specifically that cherub faced waif Leonardo DiCaprio. As recently as the 1990s the islands were pretty much ignored by most of the world and were only frequented by the hardiest of hardy travelers.
Then James Cameron decided to make a film about a water-dwelling space-ship that was attacked by a cold-hearted iceberg from the future or something like that. Then he threw Leo and a naked Kate Winslet and he had himself box-office gold. DiCaprio became pretty much the biggest star in the world and followed up the biggest grossing film ever with a movie set on a beach called … well… ‘The Beach.’
In case you hadn’t guessed it the movie was set on Phi Phi Leh and ever since then, the islands have been a tourist attraction for would-be back packers and paradise seekers the world over. Not that filming didn’t cause some controversy. In fact, it caused a helluva lot of controversy.
Maya Beach was the chosen location for a film ostensibly about the futile preservation of paradise, or humanities destructive nature or beach football is awesome. One of those three. Anyway, it turns out that Fox Studios who made the film are not necessarily the most eco-friendly of film makers. The needed an area large enough to play football in, something the virgin palm-tree laden islands did not have. So they bulldozed it. Then to really get the paradise look, they planted a 100 or so non-native trees.
After the camera crew left and the usual storms hit, the sand dunes natural vegetation had left with the film crew. They collapsed and were washed out to sea, damaging the coral reef with it. All sorts of madness ensued. There were accusations that Fox Studios had donated $100,000 to the Royal Forestry Development in Thailand to secure the location and they were sued by outraged palm-lovers. Seven years later the case was won and Fox were ordered to pay for all the unnecessary ecological destruction the filming caused.
And that’s how the Phi Phi Islands became one of the Far East’s most popular destinations.